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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Maranatha Lord Maranatha - 12/10/2017

(sing) Maranatha, Maranatha. O Come, Lord Jesus, come ….

I was assembled with people one Advent service several years ago and we sang this as the response in the prayers of intercession. After each petition we sang it out, the intention building as we offered up similar prayers as we do today … our prayers for creation, our leaders and the Church. We prayed for the unloved, the oppressed, the saints. We prayed for relief for people in difficult situations, like our brothers and sisters dealing with wildfires in California. We asked God to grant healing for friends and family who are ill and comfort for our beloved who are in mourning. We prayed our hearts would be prepared for the birth of the poor refugee baby Messiah.

Maranatha, Lord Come! We need you Lord!

For a lot of reasons, we can sure feel this prayer, can't we? And when we pray – we want answers too. So I think it is interesting to see how our readings serve as answer to prayer.

For one, we get this John the Baptist guy in answer to our prayers for the Lord Jesus to come.

I had always thought of John the Baptist as a rather prickly guy. I've referred to him as a wild-eyed prophet, standing out in the water, agitated by the itchy and confining clothing he wore … nourished adequately on those locusts and honey, but perhaps hungry for the communion of people that often takes place around meals.

But placed side-by-side with the very text from the Prophet Isaiah that the gospel writer is referring to, it paints a different picture of John. “Comfort, o comfort my people,” implores the prophet Isaiah centuries before John would step into the river; centuries before he would accompany people as they repented and then were washed in the waters, a way of physically reminding themselves of freedom from that sin.

For us followers of Jesus, Isaiah's words point to this baptizing man, this first proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God. And Isaiah's prophecy tells us John is to speak tenderly to the people gathered at the banks of the river, and by extension he speaks tenderly to us all these years later perhaps in answer to prayer.

He is to encourage and perhaps challenge us a little too – as the prophecy said he'd challenge those people in the river that day – “Get you up to a high mountain, Zion! … Lift your voice with strength … Here is your God!”

(sing) Maranatha, Maranatha. O Come, Lord Jesus, come …

This word “Maranatha” is a curious word.  It's a word you feel in your heart and your gut when you sing it like we did in the prayers that day … but also when you simply speak it. “Maranatha.” It's more than just it's dictionary definition … you can feel this is the prayer of someone desiring the Kingdom of God be upon us. “Come, Lord Jesus,” we typically say with Maranatha.

It turns out, however, this is not only about praying for God to enter in where we feel broken, where we are laid wide open in grief, where we worry and struggle to hang on to hope.

Maranatha is actually a mash up of two words in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The meaning depends on how you untangle those Aramaic words.

One translation is the way I've been using is so far. I think it's safe to say it's the way we traditionally understand it, especially in times when it's so hard to wait for the fully revealed Reign of God to be upon us ...

… times when we hear the ancient prophet telling us to “Cry out!” and we feel so heavy with the brokenness of this world. “Cry out? Why cry out? My brother, my sister, my dreams and expectations … far too many have already withered like the grass – turned out to be as fragile as flowers in a field. Why cry out? What good is it?”

A few years ago, I saw a news story  about a small group of people who marched from the site in Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was killed, 135 miles to the state capitol in Jefferson City. In one small town, they encountered what can really only be described as a band of racists. They tried to block the marchers on their way through the town. They assaulted  them with racial slurs and various displays of their ignorance. It was hard to watch. I cannot even imagine the way these people must have felt as they walked through this gauntlet of hate and fear. But they did. In doing so they witnessed to the fact that we do not live in a post-racism society. They also showed us quite vividly that their tender yet strong act of “getting up the mountain” is a powerful response to that lingering racism.

What I was particularly drawn to in this story were Cornell Brooks' comments about it. He's the MO NAACP president who organized the march. This one town, he said, was not representative of most of the towns they walked through a long the way. Most people were kind and gracious, tender-hearted and encouraging.

The crying out is working and it works because “The grass withers and the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

And so we keep up that good work. We keep naming acts of racism  and abuses of power in our face-to-face encounters as hard as it may be. We learn as we go and we keep an ear tuned to how God goes with us.

Sometimes we come together as groups like the one from Ferguson. On their way they had many personal encounters with people. And as a group, they arrived in Jefferson City with specific demands of their public officials.  And their cries and visions for a future where black and brown lives matter too rise up in prayer to God.

In times of “getting up the mountain” and lifting our voices, we lean into our traditional use of this word “Maranatha” …. Come, Lord Jesus. Please come and deliver us from this brokenness.

But, as I said, there is a second way to understand this word. Untangled another way it can be understood as “Our Lord has come.”

Unlike the Jewish people Isaiah was encouraging as they returned  to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile...

Unlike those people in the Jordan River with John who were waiting to be freed from the oppression of the Roman empire, who were hearing ... for the first time … the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ … the son of God ...

Unlike them, our vantage point gives us a much wider view. We profess our Lord has come. We look to the manger there where ... in the words of the psalmist ... “Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together/ righteousness and peace have kissed each other./ Faithfulness shall spring up from the earth/ and righteousness shall look down from heaven” … all comes together.

And so while we remember our story of when God came among us this season of Advent; while we continue to pray for the Lord to break into our lives, we also continue to live into that second sense of the word Maranatha – Our Lord has come.

The Kingdom of God has dawned as we look to that manger on this early Advent sabbath from our vantage point not only 2,000+ years after the manger, but also the cross. God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has made that dawning of the Kingdom clear. And we physically remind ourselves of that at the table today when we eat the bread, drink the wine and rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins and promise of eternal life with God.

This time of waiting for the full revelation of God's reign on Earth is not about waiting for our salvation. It's not about snatching the last word from the evil that often fools us into thinking we must live in the grips of hate and fear. That salvation, that freedom is already won, our readings say as an answer to prayer.

***

Perhaps this ancient Aramaic word may serve as best as our rallying call. It is our prayer to God for the strength and courage, the compassion and Christ-centered hearts of justice and love we need to care for this creation – care that works to the glory of a God who does not want any to perish, as our 2 Peter reading reminds us today. God wishes to gather all of creation up like the careful and steadfast loving shepherd God is to us. “Therefore, beloved,” 2 Peter tells us, “while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

Maranatha, Maranatha – Our Lord has come.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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